Richard could have gotten into serious trouble, scrutinized as “subversive," "Red," or “pinko,” for all the books he reads during the course of my novel (except Philbrick’s I Led 3 Lives and Casino Royale). That would include several now considered part of English Literature canon: The Catcher in the Rye, Fahrenheit 451, Invisible Man, and Go tell it on the Mountain (each published during my novel’s timeframe), as well as John Steinbeck’s The Red Pony or Of Mice and Men, and Arthur Miller’s play The Crucible. Richard and Vlad also read Call of the Wild and The Maltese Falcon, both adapted into much-loved movies.
And, of course, Robin Hood—which an Indiana textbook commissioner urged schools across the nation to ban in 1953 because it advocated “robbing the rich” and “smearing law and order.”
Just as McCarthy’s arrogant attack of a decorated WWII general—(who was good friends with President Dwight D. Eisenhower, the supreme commander of Allied Forces during the war)—was the senator’s fatal mistake in terms of public opinion, so was the censors targeting the Merry Men. Students at Indiana University collected six bags of chicken feathers from local farms, dyed them green to match Robin’s forest camouflage, and passed them out in protest to their fellow IU students. Despite public rebuke and FBI harassment, the movement spread to university campuses like Harvard and UCLA. It was the beginning of college student activism that would prove such a powerful force for civil rights and anti-Vietnam protests.
For more on the Green Feather Movement:
On helping improve teen media literacy:
For another excellent YA book about this time period, check out CATCH YOU LATER, TRAITOR by Avi:
Excerpt from Chapter One of SUSPECT RED:
School was out, summer was on, and Richard had a stack of books he planned to read. Stuff that would obliterate all the crumb-bum melodrama of 8th grade—the cliques that froze out a kid who liked to read and couldn’t roller-skate. The girls who went steady with dopes who greased their hair into duck-butts. Girls who turned their pretty noses up at a guy who talked about the Holy Grail or Sherlock Holmes or Sam Spade.
In September, Richard would wade back into that donkey manure. Maybe high school would be different. But this summer? Richard was going to escape. He’d travel universes created by his books—no moldy old mush dictated by school wardens. Good stuff—heroes, spy intrigues, quests, underdogs winning the day, private detectives cracking crime cases, and a couple of dames in distress. He’d even squirreled away a copy of that novel all the parents hated, Catcher in the Rye.
He was reading Salinger’s novel in chunks, under his sheets at midnight with a flashlight, knowing it dangerous stuff. Last night, the 16-year-old narrator—Holden Caulfield—ran away from boarding school, after getting his nose busted by a jerk in his dorm. Richard pulled out the pocket-sized spiral notebook in which he jotted things down that he really liked. He re-read some Holden truths he’d copied out.
“You can always tell a moron. They never want to discuss anything intelligent…”
Richard nodded. Exactly.
“What really knocks me out is a book that, when you’re all done reading it, you wish the author was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it.”
Right again. Sometimes books could be better friends than kids. No kidding.
Richard ran his hand along the forest green cover of the novel he’d brought to the kitchen table with him. He’d love to talk to the guy who wrote it. Robin Hood. Classic stuff. He’d read it before, but the story never got old. How could it? A former knight, now outlaw, hanging out with forest desperados, taking down a bully, and winning the prettiest maiden in the land.
Everyone was asleep. No interruptions. Richard opened the book. Instantly, he no longer sat in a tidy, perfectly symmetrical brick colonial in northwest Washington D.C.. Instead, he stalked the gloam of Sherwood Forest in the age of the Crusades. He came upon an ambush.
“It was a wild spot; and only the notes of the birds and the rush of falling water disturbed it. But ere they proceeded a quarter of a mile up the stream a sudden bend brought them the harsh noise of desperate fighting.
Richard flinched, Sherwood Forest evaporated.
His mother stood in the doorway in a hot pink bathrobe, her blonde hair a crown of neatly bobby-pinned swirls. “What in the world are you doing up this early, honey?” Abigail asked. “It’s summer vacation.”
“Reading.” Richard answered without looking up, trying to recapture the forest battle.
Abigail gasped. “You can’t read that!” She slammed the book shut on Richard’s fingers and pulled it off the table.
“What the heck, Mom!” He tried to reach for it, but she turned, cradling the book in her arms.
“What if Mr. Hoover knew you’re reading this?”
Richard’s dad was an FBI agent, a G-man. Mr. Hoover—the agency’s director, lived on the next street. Sometimes Hoover had his driver stop in front of their house and his dad rode into work with him or was given instructions for some case or something. His dad always got the weirdest look on his face when that happened.
His mom was always so all-fired worried about impressing Hoover. It was like how Richard felt at school with the principal. He knew Abigail’s concern came from love for his dad. But Richard couldn’t help it. Her being a worrywart annoyed the heck out of him.
“Why would Mr. Hoover care about what I’m reading?” he asked. “Especially Robin Hood?”
“You know how I volunteer at the library? Well, the librarians are all scared silly. A librarian up in Massachusetts refused to take a loyalty oath and a group called ‘Alert Americans’ raised such a ruckus about it that the county actually fired the poor woman.
“So to be safe, our librarians made a list of books we might have to pull from the shelves. It includes Robin Hood.”
“Because Robin Hood takes from the rich to give to the poor.” She added in a whisper as if they could be overheard: “That’s a communist concept.”